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Heavy Rotation with The Black Sheep Dres

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

Last week, we premiered a new song by The Black Sheep Dres (formerly known as just Dres of legendary Native Tongues duo Black Sheep), and also published our first ever Pick 6 with him, where he told us the stories behind six of his classic Black Sheep joints and solo collaborations. In addition, we spoke to Dres about the songs that have inspired his music over the years for our Heavy Rotation series. As you will see, he has a deep love for soul music, and also cuts that feature his favorite instrument, the piano. Check out Dres’ selections below, and stay tuned for his upcoming project, which is being produced by DJ Premier (who he recently recorded a Bars in the Booth episode with) and Showbiz.

1. Angela Bofill “I Try”

The Black Sheep Dres: “Actually, a sister by the name of Maysa did a remake of this song within the last couple years, and it’s equally as dope as the original, which is kind of rare. I find myself listening to both of them, Maysa’s and the original by Angela Bofill.

“Before I ever made a record, I was a hustler, and I had a little crew. I was fortunate that I got arrested early. I was one of the first people that was arrested by TNT, which was the task force that New York created behind the crack epidemic, and I wound up spending ten months on Riker’s Island. It was enough though. Anytime I’m close to doing some ridiculous shit, that little bit of time—which wasn’t a little bit of time when I was doing it but [in relation] to how bids are today was [short]—makes me think three or four times about the position I’m about to put myself in.

“So I was on Riker’s Island the first time I ever heard this song. I was 18 years old, maybe 19. They used to give you little lime green radio walkman that you could buy on Riker’s Island. I didn’t know who it was, but I heard it late one night. And it would be years before I heard it again. But the song had made such an impression on me this one night when I was laying on my cot or whatever. It just blew me away. It was so soulful, and her voice resonated with me. It’s just such a beautiful ballad. But it would be a couple of years before I’d hear it again.

“I literally flipped out when I heard it again. I was home, and I might’ve been working on the album and heard it on the radio. I was like, ‘Who is this?!?’ I was listening intently, and they were like, ‘That was ‘I Try’ by Angela Bofill.’ And I was like, ‘Oh word!’ I finally knew who it was. And I rushed to find the record, and ever since it’s been a staple. I played Maysa’s version yesterday, and I’ll play Angela’s today. I always play one or the other.”

2. Marvin Gaye “The Shadow of Your Smile”

“I recently discovered this song. It was kind of unbenounced to me, and I don’t think a lot of people know it. I thought I was pretty well-versed to Marvin Gaye’s catalog, then I heard this song. It’s off of one of his lesser-known albums that [was released after his death]. It’s an incredible song.

“I think the album What’s Going On is unparalleled as far as how fluid it is, and the tracklisting from one song to the next. And I’ve always been a huge Marvin Gaye fan. I’ve been listening to his music my whole life. So to hear this song that I’ve never heard, maybe two or three years ago, it was almost like it was new. I found it diving down a rabbit hole on YouTube, going through some of his stuff.

Ron Carter has a version of it too on bass, so I was familiar with the song, just from digging through records over the years. His instrumental version is actually pretty dope. So just that I knew the title of the song, I clicked on it when it said Marvin Gaye, and I was literally blown away.”

3. Robert Glasper “Smells Like Teen Spirit (1 Mic 1 Take)”

“Robert Glasper is a recent jazz musician who’s been working with a lot of the neo-soul artists and some of the backpacker type hip-hop artists. He’s been putting out some incredible current jazz, in a way that you’re not hearing now. Jazz is almost like a dead sea scroll. Everything you hear about jazz is usually pretty old. Robert Glasper is definitely holding the torch and pushing it forward.

“This is one of the few songs I’ve ripped off the Internet, just because I didn’t think this ‘1 Mic 1 Take’ version would be for sale. It’s a video take of just him playing the piano and this dude playing the upright bass. And what they were able to do with just two instruments to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is phenomenal. I listen to it all the time, and I find myself caught up in the piano chords.”

4. Bill Evans “Two Lonely People”

“Bill Evans is a pianist that is insane. The piano’s my favorite instrument. And over the past few years, I’ve been delving into his catalog. I adore the things he was able to accomplish on the piano. ‘Two Lonely People’ takes me away. It’s one of those records that if anything’s bothering me, it calms me, and puts me in a good space. I found this online, just floating through his stuff. It’s from The Bill Evans Album.

“I’m about to start my son on piano lessons, my seven year old. And I’m gonna actually take them with him. I’ve always wanted to play the piano. I can play a little by ear.”

5. Donny Hathaway “We Need You Right Now”

“This was recorded live at The Troubadour in Los Angeles. You can hear the audience, and the women yelling out at different parts of the record.

“It’s a record that Donny Hathaway wrote to God, in the late ‘60s or ‘70s, and it’s current right now. A lot of the records I love are timeless pieces. It wouldn’t matter when you heard it or when it was made. It’s always current. And it’s a song to God speaking to the plight of man, and how he’s needed. You know, he’s damn near begging God to come help us.

“He speaks to God, but he’s speaking on him helping his brothers and sisters. It’s not even so much about, ‘Give me something.’ It’s, ‘Help us.’ That really resonates with me as an artist. A lot of people are on a self mission, but I was told a long time ago to make music for the people, and they’ll always be there with you. If you make music for yourself, then that’s yours. But if you make music for the people, then that’s how you move forward. That’s how your music lives. It won’t matter if you’re here or not, because it wasn’t done from a place of ‘me,’ it’s from a place of ‘us.’

“I’ve always imagined myself in this room, just being there [while he’s performing]. The way the record builds is tremendous. And his voice, forget about it. Donny Hathaway’s voice—there will never be another. It’s almost like a spiritual.”

6. Stevie Wonder “Evil”

“I was probably 10 or 11 years old when I discovered Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life album. My mom had it. This album introduced me to the power of words. There are probably only a couple people that I could list as a direct influence to me writing music, and Stevie Wonder would be at the top of that list. Songs in the Key of Life totally captivated me. I knew every single word to both albums on both sides, even the Swahili and Spanish. It resonated with me at that age so much that I knew I was going to write music. Actually the instrumental on that album is the first song I wrote lyrics to, at that age.

“But the song I want to speak on is on Music of My Mind. In my opinion, there’s not a finer lyrically written song, ever, than ‘Evil.’ It was so well-written. These lyrics have literally at different parts of my life brought tears to my eyes.”

*Bonus Hip-Hop Pick* Fearless Four “Problems of the World”

“My man Tito from the Fearless Four was my favorite MC as a kid. He’s another one that kind of told me through his music that this is what I was supposed to be doing. A lot of people might have been into Run-D.M.C. or ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ but for me, it was this Fearless Four album.

“Hip-hop was definitely around, this wasn’t like the first album or anything. I had definitely already been versed in hip-hop. But with this particular album, it just really touched me to the point where it was like, ‘This is what I’m doing.’ And I’m from pre-hip-hop. I’ve written tons of songs before I ever wrote a rhyme. But when the Fearless Four came out, it was like, ‘All of the songs I’ve been writing have been building me up to write rhymes.’

“I thought Tito was dope, because besides the bravado, he was clearly intelligent. And he spoke about the plights of life. I’m from Astoria Projects, and they spoke for me. They spoke to my walk, and I always respected that.”

Previously: Pick 6 with The Black Sheep Dres | Heavy Rotation with Alex Wiley | Heavy Rotation with Smoke DZA (Kush Edition) | Heavy Rotation with Chase N. Cashe | Heavy Rotation with Tree (Chi-Town Edition) Heavy Rotation with Eddie Huang | Heavy Rotation with Doley Bernays | Heavy Rotation with Black Dave | Heavy Rotation with Mistah F.A.B. (Bay Area Edition) | Heavy Rotation with Hannibal Buress | Heavy Rotation with Chuck Strangers Heavy Rotation with Sean Price |  Heavy Rotation with MTV’s Rob Markman

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